When Whit Babcock managed to get Buzz Williams to come to Virginia Tech it sent a shockwave through the college basketball world. Why would a really good coach go to such a moribund program with little support?
Three things conspired to land Williams; A souring and unstable situation at Marquette, a pledge of increased financial support from Babcock, and Williams' self-confidence in his abilities as a coach.
Williams is exactly what Tech needed. He's aggressive on the recruiting trail and has already reeled in some impressive talent. That's enormous in order for Tech to compete in the ACC, but the biggest things for me are that Buzz is committed to his methods and system while also bringing superior X's and O's.
There's a famous cliche, "It's not about the X's and O's, it's about the Jimmy's and Joe's," implying that talent is more important than scheme. This can be true, but Buzz has shown with this group that sometimes you can draw up plays and gameplans that defy logic and narrow the talent gap.
The Hokies are once again shorthanded this season and incredibly undersized. Still, Tech has trotted out four and five guard lineups that play competitive defense and generally are good enough on offense to keep the Hokies in games.
Then there's the offense which has been an incredible breath of fresh air.
Tech has shown improved ball movement and players are more active on the offensive end. You can see the team executing a gameplan, not just dribbling around the perimeter and hoping for an opportunity as under the two previous coaches.
The team's initial defense is outstanding, it's the second-chance points given up by lack of rebounds that get the Hokies in trouble. Even so, Tech has been blocking out and getting more boards than you'd expect when you have guys like 6'3" guard Malik Müller at the power forward slot.
Then there's the intangible toughness and effort factors. These are hallmarks of a Buzz Williams team and the Hokies are showing tons of both. The best part? Buzz isn't even especially impressed recently calling those , "the price of admission" and "prerequisites". In other words, playing hard is just what you're supposed to do so don't expect a pat on the back.
Toughness develops over time, but these guys already have it. Whether it's undersized players battling for rebounds and loose balls in the post or Will Johnston taking shots to the head that drew blood and playing through it, this group is full of kids willing to fight for their school and their coach.
Tech is impressively close to having a winning record this season with a number of narrow losses, and even at 9-12 overall currently there are still opportunities this season for ACC wins. Frankly, it's hard to count a team like this out as long as they give full effort.
Close isn't good enough for Buzz though and while he's one of the most quotable people I've heard speak in a long time, some of his thoughts after the Pittsburgh game spoke volumes to me about the kind of man and coach he is.
"I used to hear my Grandmother say this all the time," he told Bill Roth postgame Tuesday.
"You get exactly what you deserve, but it's not about deserving it, it's about earning it. We deserved to win against Virginia, but we didn't earn it and so after the game that's what I told them. I don't feel sorry for you, I'm not applauding your effort, I'm not into 'man you guys are trying so hard'. We're not the Bad News Bears, we play in the ACC."
I could write a book with quotes like this, but it begins to give you a sense of Buzz. He's funny, charismatic, insightful, and most of all he's honest and transparent which is a rare commodity in coaching at any level in any sport.
I can't tell you definitively that Buzz Williams will lead Tech back to the NCAA Tournament (though I'm quite confident) or even how long he'll be in Blacksburg, but it's most certainly going to be a fun ride.
Tech will put a product on the floor that you can be proud of, and he'll do so with discipline and an insane level of energy that has dry cleaner's in Blacksburg licking their chops over all those soaked dress shirts.
So strap in and enjoy the ride.